How long does COVID-19 really last on different surfaces and other questions you might want answered

Worried about takeaway packaging or whether it’s safe to open your post? Our experts have all the answers...
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  • Most of us know that washing our hands can help protect against COVID-19 from spreading. But it can be trickier with other household items and surfaces we come into contact with regularly.

    “As COVID-19 is a new virus we don’t know exactly how long it lasts on different surfaces,” says Dr Najia Shaikh MBBS MRCGP, an NHS GP and founder of One Skin Clinic on Harley Street, London. “However, there have been various studies done to determine the length.”

    How long can coronavirus live on different surfaces?

    • Hands: Up to 24 hours, depending on how efficiently and how often you wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser.
    • Cardboard: Up to 24 hours
    • Plastic: Up to 72 hours (includes credit cards and bank notes)
    • Metal: Up to 72 hours
    • Fabric / clothes: From several hours up to 24 hours.
    • Money: Up to 4 hours on copper coins

    Staying safe from COVID-19 at the supermarket checkout

    Heading out to do some shopping? “Card machines and self-checkouts are constantly being touched by people multiple times an hour,” says Dr Shaikh. “They can therefore host the virus on them for hours, alongside bank notes, credit cards and coins.” Wear gloves, don’t touch your face and wash your hands afterwards.

    How can you stay safe after your shopping once home?

    “On returning from the supermarket, fresh fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly under running water,” says Dr Shaikh. “Any food packaging, such as cans, should be cleaned with disinfectant wipes or spray before storing. Any unnecessary packaging should be removed and disposed of into a bin. And while handling these items it’s best to wear gloves and make sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water.”

    How long does Covid-19 last on surfaces: beware contact when getting a takeaway

    Credit: Getty Images

    Are takeaways safe from COVID-19?

    “The risk of catching coronavirus from food is very low. It’s the packaging and delivery method that poses the greatest risk,” says Dr Shaikh. “Make sure to order your food using a ‘contact free’ delivery method where possible, so that you can avoid direct contact with the delivery driver. Wear gloves when handling the packaging. Do not eat out of the containers provided – serve the food on a plate and discard all packaging in the bin immediately afterwards. Wash your hands again with soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.”

    Watch out if you wear glasses, especially if you’re over 40

    Think wearing spectacles can offer protection from COVID-19? Sadly, it could put you at higher risk. “There is no scientific evidence that spectacles can offer protection against COVID-19 or other viral transmissions,” says Dr Clare O’Donnell, head of research from Optegra.

    “In line with College of Optometrist advice, it is important to disinfect spectacles as some viruses such as COVID-19 can remain on hard surfaces for hours to days, which can be transferred to spectacles wearers’ fingers and faces. This especially holds true for presbyopes (people generally over the age of 40). Most presbyopes require reading glasses and they may be putting them on and off their face multiple times a day.”

    Should you wash your clothes more regularly?

    “Most people leave clothes until a pile has built up before washing. There’s also a tendency for people to wash at 40 degrees on a quick wash cycle, which we don’t recommend,” says Susan Fermor, spokesperson for laundry company Dr Beckmann. “Under current circumstances, we would recommend that you do 60-degree washes, more regularly, as soon as clothes have been worn.”

    Is it still safe to open and send post?

    Have a birthday coming up? If you’re sending post it’s advised that instead of licking the envelope, you use a wet sponge, warns Dr Shaikh.

    “If you’re receiving envelopes or cardboard box deliveries, it’s best to leave them for at least 24 hours before opening. Wear gloves while handling and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.”

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